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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review: The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie

by Shannon Berteau of Small Farmer’s Journal

Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor, or the value of repetition in the practice of performing basic farm tasks with our horses. Working with horses on a farm is a craft and a skill and as such it is a process of lifelong learning. In fact, most of us won’t have just one mentor, but rather a series of teamsters we chance to meet who have traveled a little farther down the road than we have, and who often appear in our lives just when we have the most need for (and receptivity to) their hard-acquired wisdom. No matter how much we think we might know, we need to remain humble enough to recognize that there is always something more we can learn from our fellow teamsters – and most especially from our horses.

— Stephen Leslie in The New Horse-Powered Farm

Do you remember back to high school or college, way back maybe? Do you remember a teacher that did do some lecturing but didn’t put you to sleep? Something about the sound of their voice, or the lyrical nature of their sentence structure kept you poised and listening. Even though I have rarely heard the voice of Stephen Leslie, in reading his articles and emails over the years for Small Farmer’s Journal I have felt that he embodies this tone. Beginning his new book, The New Horse-Powered Farm: Tools and Systems for the Small-Scale Sustainable Market Grower, I found myself delighted that I was going to get to read a whole book of this voice, instead of just a short Journal article.

This exemplary tone of his wouldn’t be that important, except for the fact that no matter how well read I am on the subject, I am not a horse owner, or a farmer (gardener with chickens?). I was nervous about gleaning the necessary information from its pages. However, his scholarly, well-educated yet not boring professorialship allowed me to delve in and explore these tools and systems with the comfort of the most well established greenhorn. From tips on getting started with horses to using the basic tools for tillage and cultivation to whole farm management, Leslie takes things one step at a time and breaks to allow for questions periodically so he knows everyone is on equal footing; true sign of a good and patient teacher.

Once into the nuts and bolts of the book the pace is surprisingly quick as he takes you through a 300+ oversized page tour crossing this vast culture of knowledge. Sections include but are not limited to: draft horse breeds, care of the workhorse, working with your horse and training the teamster, training horses, working with horses on the farm, farm fertility, plowing, seeding, infrastructure, vegetable production, cultivation systems, harvesting, hay making and economics. Whew, what a mouthful. It is a lot to cover in 300 pages. He is brief in spots but somehow thorough at the same time. I particularly enjoyed the section on caring for your work horse which I didn’t expect to be detailed yet contained useful and important information for novice horse folk as well as good advice for the sage. There is also a reference section in the back and the bountiful side bars give you the impression that each of these farmers could be called upon in a time of need with their knowledge and expertise.

He pays much respect to these individuals and I truly enjoyed their shared perspectives as well as Leslie’s political interjections. Even though they can’t even really be construed as political, more philosophical:

Everything on this planet is connected, and every action must come full circle. Small farmers everywhere are planting the seeds of hope for a more sustainable world. In the future true food security will be founded on a return to human-scale farming communities.

I am left with the impression that this book could take the place of an over-view course entitled, Horse-Powered Farming 101. As Leslie states, it is a “practical application of draft horse power for the farmer of today”. It is, as he sets out to create, a “basic tool kit of the horse-powered market garden”. If you are starting from scratch you will need to delve more deeply into many of the sections touched upon in Leslie’s book with this in mind. Also, he periodically directs readers toward the references that have previously been made available on the subject including our very own Lynn Miller, Doc Hammill, and Eric and Anne Nordell.

I think this book will serve as a useful compass, or syllabus, from which to guide many young farmers’ journeys into farming with horses. I wish them the best of luck! Thank you, Stephen Leslie, for contributing this tome to help folks in their introduction to and/or transition toward draft-powered farming.

Anita Van Grunsven, seasoned horse farmer extraordinaire says,

For a beginning farmer it has a lot of good issues to consider and I really liked the interviews with people including apprentices all the way up to experienced folk like the Nordells. This book is for kindergarten through third grade horse farming experience levels and I consider myself a third grader.

Spotlight On: Book Reviews

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Mixed with sand, water, and straw, a clayey-subsoil will dry into a very hard and durable material; indeed, it was the first, natural “concrete”. In the Americas, we call it “adobe”, which is originally from the Arabic “al-toba”, meaning “the brick.” Invading Moors brought the word to Spain from North Africa, where an ancient mud building tradition continues today.


Rotation As A Means Of Blight Control

Every farmer knows that when a crop is grown on the same field year after year, it becomes inferior in quality and the yield steadily diminishes.

Haltering Foals - Training Workhorses Training Teamsters

Haltering Foals

Lynn Miller’s highly regarded book, “Training Workhorses / Training Teamsters,” is back in print! And that’s not even the most exciting news: The Second Edition is in FULL COLOR! Today’s article, “Haltering Foals,” is an excerpt from Chapter 8, “Imprinting and Training New Born Foals.”

Audels Gardeners and Growers Guide

How to Store Vegetables

Potatoes may be safely stored in bits on a well drained spot. Spread a layer of straw for the floor. Pile the potatoes in a long, rather than a round pile. Cover the pile with straw or hay a foot deep.

An Introduction To Farm Woodlands

The farm woodland is that portion of the farm which either never was cleared for tillage or pasture, or was later given back to woods growth. Thus it occupies land that never was considered suitable, or later proved unsuitable, for farm enterprises.

Art of Working Horses Hunter Review

Art of Working Horses – A Review

from issue:

Over 40 years Lynn Miller has written a whole library of valuable and indispensable books about the craft of working horses. He has helped beginners acquire the basics of harnessing and working around horses, and has led those further along to focus on the specific demands of plowing, mowing, haying and related subjects. But, in a fitting culmination, his latest book, The Art of Working Horses, raises its sights and openly ponders secrets at the heart of the work that may over time elevate it to an art.

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

A Short History of the Horse-Drawn Mower

Book Excerpt: The enclosed gear, late model John Deere, Case, Oliver, David Bradley, and McCormick Deering International mowers I (we) are so fond of had a zenith of popular manufacture and use that lasted just short of 25 years. Millions of farmers with millions of mowers, built to have a serviceable life of 100 plus years, all pushed into the fence rows. I say, it was far too short of a period.

Aboard the Planetary Spaceship

Aboard the Planetary Spaceship

SFJ Spring 2016 Preview: Edward O. Wilson’s new book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, offers a plan for the problem of species extinction: the dominant species, man, must hold itself back, must relinquish half the earth’s surface to those endangered. It is a challenging and on the face of it improbable thought, expressed in a terse style. But his phrases are packed because the hour is late.

The Horsedrawn Mower Book

Removing the Wheels from a McCormick Deering No. 9 Mower

How to remove the wheels of a No. 9 McCormick Deering Mower, an excerpt from The Horsedrawn Mower Book.

Storey's Guide to Keeping Honey Bees

Storey’s Guide To Keeping Honey Bees

It is well known that the value of pollination and its resultant seed set and fruit formation outweigh any provided by honey bee products like honey and beeswax.

An Introduction To Grasslands Farming

From Dusty Shelves: A World War II era article on grassland farming.

Starting Your Farm

Starting Your Farm: Chapter 5

You might think that your new farm is fenced all wrong, or that a certain tree is in the wrong place, or that a wet area would be better drained, or that this gully would make a good pond site, or that a depression in the road should be filled, or that the old sheds should all come down right away. Well maybe you’re right on all counts. But maybe, you’re wrong.

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Horse Sense for Plain Farming

Book Review – The New Horse-Powered Farm by Stephen Leslie: Working with horses is not something you can learn exclusively through watching DVD training videos and attending workshops and seminars. These things and experiences can be very useful as auxiliary aids to our training, but they cannot replace the value of a long-term relationship with a skilled mentor.

Work Horse Handbook

The Work Horse Handbook

The decision to depend on horses or mules in harness for farm work, logging, or highway work is an important one and should not be taken lightly. Aside from romantic notions of involvement in a picturesque scene, most of the considerations are serious.

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Setting Up A Walking Plow

Here is a peek into the pages of Horsedrawn Plows and Plowing, written by SFJ editor and publisher Lynn R. Miller.

How To Prune a Formal Hedge

How To Prune A Formal Hedge

This guide to hedge-trimming comes from The Pruning Answer Book by Lewis Hill and Penelope O’Sullivan. Q: What’s the correct way to shear a formal hedge? A: The amount of shearing depends upon the specific plant and whether the hedge is formal or informal. You’ll need to trim an informal hedge only once or twice a year, although more vigorous growers, such as privet and ninebark, may need additional clippings.

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Farming For Art’s Sake: Farming As An Artform

Farming as a vocation is more of a way of living than of making a living. Farming at its best is an Art, at its worst it is an industry. Farming can be an Art because it allows at every juncture for the farmer to create form from his or her vision.

Haying With Horses

Haying With Horses

If the reader is considering the construction of a barn we encourage you to give more than passing thought to allowing the structure of the gable to be open enough to accommodate the hanging of a trolley track. It is difficult or impossible to retrofit a truss-built barn, which may have many supports crisscrossing the inside gable, to receive hay jags. At least allowing for the option in a new construction design will leave the option for loose hay systems in the future.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT